Things to do in Pula

Must-see Pula sights

The region of Istria is one of the prettiest in Croatia – fact – so it’s easy to underestimate its capital, Pula, as just a busy working port. But that would be a mistake, a big mistake, for you’d be missing out on what is the real soul of the region: under that gruff urban character you’ll be spoilt for things to do in Pula, from fascinating Roman past to a party scene that will knock your socks off.

  1. Unleash your inner gladiator
  2. On the Roman trail 
  3. Rave like a Roman
  4. Share a pint with James Joyce
  5. Retro fun
  6. Going underground
  7. Find your sea legs
  8. Catch a dazzling art show
  9. Local art
  10. Beach bliss
  11. Be spooked out
  12. Island fun

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1. Unleash your inner gladiator

The Romans built things to last, and the Pula Amphitheatre they built in the 1st century in Pula, or Polensium as they called it, is now the world’s sixth largest – no mean feat. Some 23,000 spectators attended gladiatorial contests here. Be sure to delve below ground into the old holding cells and spare a thought for the prisoners awaiting their gruesome fate. The wild animals were caged in the subterranean cellars.

Best for: History buffs.

While you’re there: If you’re here in summer don’t miss ‘Spectacvla Antiqva’ - this ‘Antique Spectacle’ is your chance to see some real gladiator action.

2. On the Roman trail

Gladiator sandals at the ready, start at the Triumphal Arch of Sergius, through to the Temple of Augustus and then check out what’s left of the Roman Forum. The Temple of Augustus is the highlight here: it’s one of the finest Roman temples outside Italy, with its high Corinthian columns. Also check out the Roman gravestones at the Archaeological Museum of Istria (Arheološki muzej).

Best for: Budding archaeologists.

While you’re there: In summer, see some Roman statues tap to the beat as classical music concerts take place in the Archaeological Museum’s sculpture garden.

3. Rave like a Roman

Romans were hard-working but they also knew how to party! 24h-party-people can rely on the Music After Dinner crew to disco, funk, soul, jazz, house the night away at Fort Punta Christo, not far from the centre.

Best for: 24h-party-people.

While you’re there: Though you can’t visit the fortress other than when an event is on, you can still climb to it during the day for wonderful views across the harbour and to the Brijuni Islands.

4. Share a pint with James Joyce

Don’t worry, even if you’re not a James Joyce aficionado you’re going to like this one.  The former local branch of the Berlitz language school where the great Irish writer found work in 1904 is now open as the Uliks (Ulysses) Café. 

Best for: Parched intellectuals.

While you’re there: Sit outside the café so you can see the bronze sculpture of Joyce sitting at his favourite chair.

5. Retro fun

It’s all in the name really: the Museum of Good Memories (or MEMO). Step back in time, but not as far back as the Romans this time, to the 1950s through to the 1980s as told through the eyes of an imaginary local family. It’s an interactive museum too, so a lot of fun.

Best for: Nostalgic types.

While you’re there: Don’t miss the cute little ‘Fico’ car: this was THE car to be seen in socialist Yugoslavia.

6. Going underground

Pula was Austria-Hungary’s main naval base before World War I, and several tunnels were built beneath the city’s main hilltop in the event of enemy bombardment. Enter at Zerostrasse or “Zero Street” to experience the underground network for yourself.

Best for: Military aficionados.

While you’re there: The tunnels make for an atmospheric music venue: ask at the tourist office for anything going on while you’re there.

7. Find your sea legs

Inside the 17th-century kaštel (fortress), the Historical and Maritime Museum of Istria (Povijesni i pomorski muzej Istre) you’ll find all sorts of seafaring memorabilia, scale models of ships, and even a history of pharmacies (more interesting than it sounds promise).

Best for: Seafaring types.

While you’re there: Even if ships don’t rock your boat (sorry), it’s a rewarding climb up for the views alone.

8. Catch a dazzling art show

Located on Uljanik island west of the Old Town, Pula’s Uljanik shipyard provides the perfect canvas for the Lighting Giants (Svijetleći divovi), a fantastic art installation by local lighting designer Dean Škira. The docks’ cranes are illuminated on the hour every summer evening, with musical accompaniment on special occasions to produce a unique, industrial light show.

Best for: Post-sunset stroll.

While you’re there: One of the best things to do In Pula in the evening is enjoy the show with a bottle of local Istrian wine.

9. Local art

The Pula art scene is alive and kicking. Pula-born Antun Motika was one of Croatia’s most versatile and inventive twentieth-century artists – he never jumped anyone else’s bandwagon. Check out his work at the Antun Motika Gallery (Zbirka Antun Motika); with a selection of Motika’s playful but slightly wacky collages.

Best for: Art lovers.

While you’re there: If you want to learn more about Croatian art, find out what’s on at the MSUi, or Museum of Contemporary Istrian Arts (Muzej suvremene umjetnosti Istre), set in the atmospherically grotty factory floors of a former printing house.

10. Beach bliss

What to do in Pula during a hot summer’s day is head for the beaches at Cape Kamenjak (Kamenjak rt). The whole of the peninsula is protected as a Nature Park, and you’ll have your pick of secluded coves and beaches. Drinks here come courtesy of Safari Bar, the only place inside the park for refreshments.

Best for: Beach babes.

While you’re there: Head to the high cliffs at the southern tip of the peninsula to check out the adrenaline-fuelled cliff-jumpers there.

11. Be spooked out

For something a little more spine-tingling, head out to nearby Vodnjan and be prepared to be spooked out by its famous mummies. The desiccated bodies of three saints are preserved in the town’s St Blaise’s Church. Some Croatians believe that the mummies possess magical powers – you’ve been warned!

Best for: Gruesome fun.

While you’re there: Vodnjan is also known for its amazing olive oil. Make sure to grab a bottle!

12. Island fun

Easily accessible from Pula, the 14-strong Brijuni Islands (Brijunski otoci) have protected national park status, but if you haven’t got your own boat you can only visit Veliki Brijun and Mali Brijun. Hire a bike and enjoy the peaceful island life for a day or check out the Brijuni Safari Park and its motley crew of giraffes, llamas and zebras.

Best for: Island hoppers.

While you’re there: If you’re thinking of a Pula holiday but don’t want to stay in the city itself, why not stay close to the Brijuni Islands at the Holiday centre Bi village?

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